Microsoft Open House: The Review
As you saw last week, I was able to interview Steve Ballmer as part of the Microsoft Open House. But that was really a small portion of the overall event. Most of the day was spent on the launch and demonstration of the new, the shiny, Windows Phone 7. Microsoft will be releasing three of the phones on AT&T for $199.99 in the coming months, and there will eventually be 9 phones released–the next carrier set to get them is Verizon, which will see them next year.
Before we start anything: the new Windows 7 phones don’t have a copy and paste feature. They will get it starting next year.
Moving on: Microsoft completely overhauled the Windows Phone interface for Phone 7, and it shows. The focus of the new phones is on the devices as extensions of people. As a result, it’s possible to add individual contacts to your desktop as apps. Their app will update with their latest Facebook or Windows Live updates, so you don’t have to enter into the app itself to see what your friends are up to. Unfortunately, the contacts apps aren’t integrated into Twitter–and the Microsoft representatives were a little cagey as to when (of if) that would happen. There is a dedicated Twitter app; however, it’s not dynamic at the main screen level.
The phone will pull your contacts from social networks you connect to (currently Facebook and Windows Live) and add them to your phone contacts, along with their profile picture. We asked about and were shown the contact merging feature, and the Windows team has chosen to make it manual–it did seem pretty quick and easy, though if you have several hundred contacts or friends who make cutesy fake Facebook names, it could get really annoying really quickly. There is a slick feature where, if your contacts are tied to their Facebook pages, you can post to their walls directly from their contact card.
There’s a spoken search feature, where you can ask the phone something and it will return whatever Bing queries it thinks you want. Its voice recognition seemed to work well, even in the fairly loud presentation room. However, it’s not possible to move away from Bing as the search engine and there’s no speech-to-text feature (which Android will just continue to stand out with).
Music on the phones is managed through Zune, which did seem well-integrated with the phone. The Microsoft people kept singing the praises of listening to music with the Zune Pass (a subscription service through which users can download unlimited music for a period of time), but given that I had never heard of the service before, I don’t know how many college students will be willing to shell out $15 a month for it. In the same Microsoft software vein, the browser on the phone is Internet Explorer. The Microsoft people were not clear as to whether or not third-party browsers would be added to the phone, but given that third-party developers are able to develop apps for the Phone 7 OS, it seems like users who want another browser will probably be able to have it.
The phones have external camera buttons, so users can press the button and immediately enter into camera mode. Since most cell phone photos are of quick-moving things (drunken antics, for instance–though the Microsoft example was children), this is a nice trick.
The spellcheck on the phones doesn’t autocorrect. It, much like Microsoft Word, will highlight the word and give you several possible words–you select the correct one and it changes it. If you make a mistake it will change back. The layout of the spellcheck was slicker and easier to read than the iPhone’s, I thought.
Because of the partnership with AT&T, customers who use AT&T for their cable service will be able to use Universe Mobile to watch TV on their phones. The phones all have at least a full GHz processor, so they’re able to handle the video streaming–and it’s pretty. In addition, all phones are able to run a stripped-down version of Microsoft Office–meaning that you can now use your phone to run a PowerPoint presentation if you’re giving a lecture for class. Since I’m a TA and have to tote my computer back and forth to present PowerPoints for my lectures, I must admit that that was my favorite feature that was demonstrated.
Games on the phone are based on the XNA platform, like the XBox. Microsoft has partnered with EA games to bring several games to the phone–including Sims 3, of which the presenters seemed very proud. I managed to snag an interview with a member of the EA team.
Overall, the phones seemed pretty slick–though, like all of the smartphones on the market, it’s missing some key features. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft has success pitching the phones to college students.
Commenters: Will you buy one of the new Windows 7 phones? What do you think of the redesign?